Breathe a Little Easier
Keep your allergies under control with medication or by taking a few proactive steps.
Spring is in full bloom in Central Florida! Sure, it’s only February, but our trees started pollinating in December, and “our spring peaks in February and March,” says Orlando allergist Dr. Michael Anderson.
For seasonal allergy sufferers, now is the worst time of year because their immune systems are overreacting to 20 or 30 types of airborne pollens—primarily oak and bayberry.
When you consider all of our grass, weed and mold spores, Central Florida is a yearlong festival of potential allergens. And pollens aren’t even the worst of it, allergists say.
“If you take everybody who has trouble with allergies in Central Florida and do all the tests, you’ll find [that people are allergic to] dust mites more than anything,” says Anderson.
Florida’s high humidity makes it a tropical paradise for dust mites, says Orlando allergist Dr. Andrew Bagg, because they require water to survive. They chow down on dead human skin cells and accumulate on pillows, mattresses, upholstered furniture, blankets and carpeting.
“They’re probably our biggest overall allergen here,” Bagg says, “and they’re not airborne.”
Antihistamines are the first resort for many nasal allergy sufferers, especially if their symptoms are mild and occasional. But individuals who have intense, persistent symptoms often turn to immunotherapy to treat the root cause of their reactions rather than just the symptoms.
Immunotherapy combines a patient’s history of allergic reactions with skin testing to identify the specific allergens causing symptoms. Then the goal “is to build up an immunity or tolerance, basically a desensitization,” says Bagg. “We start the dose at a low level then build it up over time with individualized strategies.”
Those strategies can take the form of shots, or sublingual drops or tablets customized for each patient. Most insurance plans don’t cover sublingual drops because the Food and Drug Administration considers their use “off-label.” But both drops and tablets are “quite a bit more convenient for a lot of people,” Anderson says, because patients can self-administer them at home instead of coming into the doctor’s office for a shot.
Immunotherapy is divided into a “build-up” phase of three to six months and a “maintenance” phase of three to five years, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. The academy suggests reviewing treatment options with your allergist if you don’t see improvement after the first year of the maintenance phase.
Tips for allergy relief
Although immunotherapy can help reduce reactions to those ubiquitous dust mites, allergists advise going on the offense as well as the defense:
- Remove old carpeting; opt for tile or wood.
- Wash bedding in hot water and use a hot dryer setting.
- Use allergen-proof covers for pillows.
- Replace upholstered furniture with leather.
They offer the same advice to people with cat and dog allergies. Immunotherapy can reduce sensitivity, allergists say, but patients should be proactive:
- Keep pets out of the bedroom and off the bed.
- Cat lovers should consider using filtered air purifiers in their cat’s favorite rooms. (Studies on using air purifiers for dog owners aren’t conclusive.)